Branding is surprisingly easier than it used to be. Instead of paying a marketing agency thousands (or more) dollars to craft a logo and create marketing products to support your brand, you can do most of it yourself. In some cases, you can even pay $5. Need a couple of designs to choose from? Launch a contest on 99designs and graphic designers will offer a plethora of options for you to choose. If you creatively designed (or someone in your neighborhood), you can skip the fee and just handle this all by yourself.

Yet, branding, as any business owner will tell you, is a lot harder than it used to be. It is a lot more than picking the right logo color or design for your business. It’s about leaving a distinctive mark on your customer. That mark is what draws your customer’s attention to your business among the barrage of branding messages they receive all day.

The Branding Adoption Process: How Names and Designs Become Brands

Think about it for a moment.

As a consumer, you meet all kinds of brands in your daily life: the McDonald’s arch, the brand name of your car, even the name on your toothpaste. Your computer has a brand name and so does your favorite search engine. Your email has a brand name. The light bulb in the room where you are reading your email has a brand name on it.

At some point in your life, these brands were not in your life. They became a part of your life because you chose (or someone chose for you) one brand out of all the options available. As long as these brands offer value to you, you’ll stick with these brands. You’ll think of McDonald’s when you want some food in a hurry. You’ll “Google” something because you know that Google has helped you in the past.

This brand adoption process is what marketers aren’t understanding, according to “Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption” by Jeff Rosenblum and Jordan Berg. They argue (rather persuasively, I might add) that marketers are focused on the wrong things in the modern age of marketing.

Why Friction, Not Views, is the Key to Marketing 

In “Friction”, Rosenblum and Berg argue that many marketers are still focusing on metrics and the practices, even in the digital age. The only difference is that we’ve shifted focus from using billboards and Superbowl commercials (though these are still expensive and important) with digital ads and cute cat videos that are supposed to go viral.

While I’m sure that Rosenblum and Berg have no problem with the business, creating the occasional cat video that might potentially go viral (Word of caution: No one actually knows what “going viral” means!), they would argue that this chase for attention is the wrong focus. Instead, these authors claim, we should be focused on reducing friction for our potential (and current) customers. The easier your brand cut out as much friction as possible, the more likely they are to buy your product.

In other words, the easier your business makes it for a customer to say “yes” to your product, the harder it will be for them to turn away.

Why Friction, Not Attention, is the Goal

The concept of marketing friction as a growing split between what marketers do and customers actually buy” has been recognized in a growing number of marketing books that are calling attention to the potential pitfalls of modern marketing. (Another is “Free Range Brands” by Nicole Ertas.) These books recognize that we live in a different marketing environment than ever before. You can’t rely on a simple billboard ad, newspaper ad, or Yellow Pages listing to get consumers. Consumers are more proactive now than ever and have access to more options than ever before.

Businesses also can’t hide behind their brand’s messages either. Consumers can quickly look up information on a business and make a split-second decision about whether a business matches their values. Those consumers can also post negative reviews on social media, by email, and other places online that could steer customers away from you. Have a leader in your business who likes to engage in behavior that is in direct opposition to your business’ stated values? Customers will find out and they can share this behavior with the world in seconds.

Both of these compelling forces, the need for transparency and the need to get your customer’s attention in a crowded world, are two of the biggest threats to modern marketers. Rosenblum and Berg’s book argue that instead of throwing more money or fancier tools (like interstitials), marketers need to take a step back and refocus on the central question: Why should a customer choose our brand?

The answer is simple. Your brand reduces friction in the buying process and increases value for the customer.

Friction & Value: How to Make Modern Marketing Easier

Let’s break this down.

In “Friction”, Rosenblum and Berg borrow the concept of “friction” from military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. Friction, in the marketing sense, is simply the difference between what you say your business is and what your customers actually experience.

Here’s how this looks. You create marketing and advertising content to sell those products and services. Under the old marketing model (the one the authors of “Friction” don’t like), your create marketing and advertising content designed to reach as many people as possible. You repeat the message as many times as you can afford, so people don’t forget you. Your options include a radio commercial, Facebook ad, newspaper ad, TV commercial, sign spinner, whatever.

This model still works to some extent, but it doesn’t guarantee the ultimate prize, customer loyalty. If a new business comes into town or an online business offers something cheaper or more creative, you’re out of luck.

In the model advocated by Rosenblum and Berg, the goal is to connect with customers on a deeper level. Businesses do that by showing your business’ unique value matches your customer’s unique needs and providing the easiest way for customers to experience that value.

What Does All This Mean for Marketers?

At this point, you might be scratching your head and saying “Isn’t the point of marketing to showcase your unique value? How is this different from the marketing I already do?”

Very perceptive.

As the authors of “Friction” point out, many marketers are good at the first half of the equation, (“showing your business’ unique value) but not so good at matching that value to their customers. Many businesses are good at standing on their soapbox and proclaiming how awesome their business is. They are not so good at providing experiences that are consistent with those messages of how awesome a business is.

Think about how many business you’ve had to:

  • Wait in line for a lot longer than you expected
  • Experience poor service or eaten bad food
  • Deal with a mobile website or app that didn’t work as promised

All this is friction. This friction can’t be glossed over  with a cute cat video, blog post, or well-produced YouTube video. This friction is the battle ground where competitors can steal your customers. That competition could come from a store down the street, a website of a business across the state, or a startup on the other side of the world.

The Wrap-Up: The Essentials Still Matter in the Digital Marketing Age

In summaryIf you want customers to adopt (and stick) to your brand,

  • Understand the value that only your business can offer
  • Understand what you customers want and what they value
  • Create marketing content and experiences that give customers what they want and value as consistently as possible
  • Focus on customer acquisition & loyalty, not views.